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Prince Genji (Hikaru Genji/ the Shining Genji/ the Shining Prince) - The eponymous hero of the tale, he is the son of an emperor (usually referred to as Kiritsubo Emperor) and of a low-ranking imperial concubine (known to readers as Lady Kiritsubo or Kiritsubo Kōi). Many scholars have tried to decipher the real or fictional model behind the character of Genji. Some of the favorite candidates are Ariwara no Narihira (the hero of The Tales of Ise), Emperor Murakami, Sugawara no Michizane, Minamoto no Tōru or Fujiwara no Korechika.[1] Independently of Murasaki Shikibu's sources of inspiration, Hikaru Genji cannot be simply reduced to being a mere fictional reflection of a real historical figure. In the tale, Genji occupies center stage from chapters one to forty-one and the narrative focuses on his amorous exploits and political successes. Although demoted to commoner status (and forced to take the name of Minamoto), Genji rises in rank to the position of Honorary Retired Emperor and lives to see his children becoming Emperor, Empress and Minister, respectively. In the realm of amorous relationships, the narrative follows Genji from his adventurous youth, a time in which he engages in multiple relationships with women of various ranks, to his mature years, when his political and erotic success is best reflected in his Rokujō-in mansion, a residence built to shelter the most important women in his life and to mirror the Imperial Palace (or at least its hidden quarters reserved to the emperor's female staff).[2]:112 The peak of Genji's glory, however, also announces his slow but inexorable decline, and chapters such as "Nowaki" and "Wakana" reveal his vulnerability in front of a new generation of young heroes, Yūgiri and Kashiwagi. The disintegration of Genji's world becomes final with the death of his beloved Murasaki, in chapter forty, "Minori," and not long after, the Prince's shining light is finally extinguished.
She is the daughter of Prince Hyōbu by a minor consort and related to Fujitsubo on her father's side (Hyōbu is Fujitsubo's brother, hence Murasaki is Fujitsubo's niece). She makes her debut into the tale as a substitute for her unattainable aunt, but she gradually outshines Fujitsubo in Genji's and the readers' eyes, turning into "a substitute for all seasons."[2]:160 In fact, her very name, "Murasaki" translated as "Lavender," plays on the similarity of two colors (the color "murasaki" is purple of a darker hue than "fuji", wisteria, of Fujitsubo's name). Discovered by Genji in the Northern Hills when she is only ten, she is taken into his Nijō residence after the death of her grandmother (the episode of her kidnapping has definite violent undertones) where she is molded into Genji's ideal woman, not unlike the myth of Galatea, with whom she is often compared.[8] She remains Genji's most important lover throughout the tale, but, because of her imperfect social status (she is of royal blood on her father's side, but her mother was a commoner), she can never be acknowledged as Genji's main wife (kita no kata). For that reason, her position is perpetually insecure, especially when Genji's attention shifts to other women including Akashi, Asagao, but most importantly, the Third Princess. Childless her entire life, Murasaki can only adopt Genji's daughter by the Akashi Lady and raise her to become an empress. Towards the end of her life, she repeatedly expresses her desire to become a nun, but meets Genji's resolute opposition. She becomes the victim of spirit possession in chapter 35 (the aggressor is once more identified as Rokujō, though this interpretation has been debated [5]) and dies in chapter 40 without having realized her wish. Murasaki as a character of the Genji has triggered much debate among scholars. Some see her as an utterly miserable character,[8] while others claim that her relationship with Genji is the best things that could have happened to a woman of Murasaki's status.[9] The beauty of this character resides precisely in its complexity. (chapters 5-40)